Back in December, Roy Tennant asked for opinions on the RADCAT listserv about his Library Journal article, The Future of Descriptive Enrichment. Here was my reply:

I think so much of our trouble with this volume of information is mindset and training. In grad school I was still learning things like the Rule of Three and other AACRII concepts that never seemed to make sense because, having had the free web most of my natural life, I couldn’t fathom why you wouldn’t just add everything. When I got that rules like this ensured that most relevant/important information can fit on a 3×5 card, it finally clicked.

Of course we can be very dear about the card catalog, and of course there are still libraries that use them exclusively. But why? Most of the answers I’ve heard relate to money problems, not because the card catalog is terrific. We all know the card catalog has, except in a few notable cases, gone the way of the dodo. Yet I only graduated last year and the majority of my knowledge is tailored to cards. Doesn’t make any sense.

Roy Tennant wrote, “Isn’t more descriptive information better than less?” and one responder disagreed, “the assumption that this external whirlwind of metadata is a gold mine is a tad naive at best.” I think this illustrates my point, and also Tennant’s point about display, beautifully. It’s not that all this metadata is stellar, or that it needs to be controlled or discarded; it needs to be shaped.

We need to try and think of it more like a dam that allows a torrent of information to flow at an digestible pace. Catalogers are not necessarily responsible for building a better system, but be we are responsible for the vision and the design. So in large part I think we need to start taking a greater interest in web design and computers as more than just the thing we type on to do our jobs. FRBR and RDA and all of it is useless unless we can build that gasket to realize it.

**UPDATE** It was pointed out that I was being very general about cataloger’s here. Apologies, it is true that many of us are way into it and try and that development won’t catch up.

Of course that whole point of view doesn’t take into account the fact that catalogers have been dwindling, so much so that most of us are actually doing the work of three. And now I ask us to become four. But understaffing/eliminating tech services is a whole other topic, and also affects our ability to implement any of this, or even to think about it very hard. I’d even go so far as to say that that issue is far more urgent.

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